How to save money on kids’ clothes

(Note:  See my review of Crocs Toning shoes here)

Lots of people wonder how it is possible to clothe large numbers of children without going broke.  I figure that John and I spend $100 or less a month on clothes for 8 kids.  I like our kids to look nicely dressed and reasonably stylish.  So how do we do it? Well, Grandma routinely gives kids nice clothes for their birthdays, which helps tremendously. Thanks, Grandma!!  But here are some other ways we keep our clothing expenses low.

Say Yes to Hand-Me-Downs  (Because free is the best price)

We always say yes when people offer us clothes.  Yes, sometimes things are worn out or ill-fitting.  But even in the humblest heap of clothing there are treasures.  And by routinely and delightedly saying yes to hand-me-downs, we make it more likely that other things will come our way in the future.  Just one example: in 2 decades of parenting 10 kids, we’ve bought only a couple pairs of snow pants, thanks to kind friends who pass things on.  Anything we don’t need I happily pass on to others.

Brake for Yard Sales  (Because a dollar isn’t bad either)

Every summer I try to go yard sale shopping at least 3 or 4 times.  I go with a list of current needs, and I also think about what kids will need during the next year.  For example, if I find boy’s jeans (rare yard sale gold) I snatch them up.  I want to have enough on hand so that come December when my kids rip  (or outgrow) the last pair in their drawers, I can pull new things out of bins.  My 16 year old son is currently wearing a pair of $70 Nikes that I bought for a dollar (looking brand new) at a yard sale.  Another kid is wearing a coat that is the envy of his friends because it has mp3 speakers built right into the hood.  My girls have many, many adorable shirts bought for a buck or less at yard sales.

Go Thrift Store Treasure-Hunting (These prices still beat department stores)

When I can’t go yard-saling, and I don’t happen to have a needed item stashed away, my next step is the thrift store.  Yes, there’s lots of junk, and you really have to look carefully.  And because sizes vary wildly it’s safest to either bring your kid or carry their measurements and a tape measure with you.  But an hour spent at a couple of different thrift stores can literally save me $100 on clothes.  I call that a pretty decent hourly wage.

Shop Now for Next Year (because clearance racks hide great bargains)

Another good tactic is to scour sales and clearance racks at your favorite department stores at the end of each season.  You may not know exactly how big your child will be next year, but for most things you can usually give a fairly reasonable guess.  I don’t usually buy swimsuits or Christmas dresses ahead, because the time frame for the use of those items is fairly narrow and the fit needs to be right.  But jeans, socks, jackets and t-shirts can be worn across several seasons.  So by all means grab them when they’re on sale, even if it is a few months ahead of time. I buy lots of jeans on Black Friday when they’re $7.  Socks, underwear, coats, and PJ’s are also bargain-priced then.

Shoes?  Suck it up and shell out (some) bucks.

The item that I most often end up buying new and/or full price is shoes.  Good dress shoes can be found at yard sales and thrift stores, and very occasionally I luck out and find nearly-new athletic shoes at yard sales.  But it is hard to predict when a pair of tennis shoes is going to die, and harder to guess what size a kid is going to need.  To save just a bit, I do keep my eyes open for BOGO sales at Payless Shoes– buy one, get one half price.

What about name brands and ‘cool’ clothes?

Often teens and preteens will have specific ideas about their clothes.  My kids aren’t extremely picky, partly because homeschooling dramatically decreases the amount of peer influence on clothing choices.  But there are still times when a kid wants $40 shoes and my budget is $20.  In cases like that, I offer the kid the $20 and tell him that he will need to provide or earn the rest of the money for the more expensive item.  Our kids can earn $3 an hour by doing extra yard work when they need money.  It is not a princely sum, but it is something.  And the hard work for small pay helps them tend toward careful spending.

I can’t end this discussion without mentioning the real source of providence on this parenting journey:  God.  When God gives you children He’s also going to give you resources to take care of them.   When we decided to adopt our two older girls,  it was incredible to see how quickly every need was provided.  Yes, we try to be wise with resources.  But the bottom line is that God  is a good provider and He will supply all our needs.

{ 16 Comments }

  1. Great, commo sense advice that sometimes we all need to hear again. Thanks, Mary!

  2. Thanks Mary! As always, great advice!
    One of my favorite sources is Craigslist…I will often find listings like “Huge Lot of 4/5 Boys clothes $20” Like with hand me downs you’ll get some stuff you can’t use, but usually if people are asking for $ they have already taken the trouble of sorting out the good stuff from the junk. It’s also a good place to unload outgrown, barely worn stuff if the consignment stores aren’t buying.

  3. I have found recently that shopping at Kohl’s, Herberger’s and even Wet Seal with kids can be less expensive than garage sales, thrift stores and goodwills. When these stores have sales, THEY HAVE SALES, with jeans as little as $4 and shirts as little as $1. My best buy there was a one piece bathing suit for my 12 year old daughter for $3 and winter bathrobe for my former mother-in-law for $5.
    When I had nine of my ten kids at home would shop thrift stores and goodwills but as the prices in those stores have continued to climb in recent years, the Kohl’s etc. looking better and better on their super sale days.
    While not about clothes, if you haven’t discovered Michael’s that is my favorite store for all items from art supplies to baskets for storing items.
    Hand me downs, save the material and refurbish into hats, gloves, and purses for gifts, my daughters and I are always cutting apart something.

    • Laura this illustrates the importance of knowing your prices. I was at a thrift store looking for jeans and they were charging $10 to $15 for used. I knew I could get new ones for $10 at Ross.

      Lots of good advice.

  4. We have been really really lucky to have fabulous hand me down sources for our kids – a huge savings! I also love to hand them down further if still in good shape – its nice to see someone else using the clothes!

    One mom commented on my daughter’s clothes because many of them are a brand name (a store I refuse to buy from due to its insane prices) and I told her every single item, except one hoodie sweatshirt my daughter purchased with a gift visa card, was a hand me down! now if only someone would hand her down some ugg boots haha.

    My boys get a ton of hand me downs too, which is great since they are SO hard on their pants. I don’t get upset when they rip in the knees.

    We also have a fabulous consignment tag sale 2x a year in a neighboring town, where I can find lots of great buys.

    My biggest issue is storing the clothes in a way that I can get to them easily as I need to. Sometimes we’ll get clothes that are a size too big and I don’t have a great system. My bins seem to get all mixed up. Bad organizational skills for sure!!

    One of my winter projects is purging clothes we no longer need and organizing the ones that remain.

    • My bins are labeled with what size is in them. I tape index cards on them – that way once I pull out the clothes in them – I can move that bin up for the size I will need next. I have a “Shoe” bin that way when one needs shoes – I go look there first to see if we have what is needed, before I go to the store. Also – you could label – by season too!

      Hope that helps a bit!

    • My system’s fairly simple. Diaper sized boxes for each size, broken by spring/summer and fall/winter. Works for now, and the boxes are still easily manageable in size and weight.

  5. Great tips as usual Mary. Thanks!

  6. I always hit “City Wide” garage sale (2 a year in my town!) Then we have a 3 good consignment stores. Last week I spent $10.14 at one of them. I walked out with a brand-new looking pair of jeans for myself (They were reduced to $1.00!!); a pair of size 14 jeans for my oldest son (they were reduced to $2.25!!); a pair of softball shoes for my daughter (they were reduced to $2.25!!!) and for my middle child a winter coat (That was reduced to $4.25!!!!). With tax – $10.14! I couldn’t have walked out of Wal-Mart with any one of those items for that little amount!!! Like you – shoes I usually have to pay full price for. Once in a blue moon – I can find a deal (not often enough!)

    Thank you so much for all of your great advice!!

    • I like to check the closeout stores (Marshalls, Ross, Nordstrom Rack) first for shoes. I’ve often found last season’s Adidas, Nike, Converse, etc. for $12. Once I found a pair of Michael Kors Ugg-style boots for $14.99. I also like Clarks’ even though they are pricey they send out lots of coupons and they are one of the few shoe brands that last long enough to be handed down between siblings.

  7. Rebecca Wallis says:

    When my sons were little I refused to put them in hand me downs, I thought nothing of spending £30 on shoes for them. They are now 11 and 12 and they do wear some clothes my brother (15) has passed on. My daughtr on the other hand is nearly 6 and I have a lovely friend who has twin girls who are 9. Myself and my partner have 5 children between us and I love to save money where I can.

    Reading your post today I went to the charity shop at lunchtime and found a pair of shoes still with the lable on for £5 intead of the original £11. They were a pair he wanted earlier this year. Thanks for inspiring me 🙂

    • Rebecca Wallis says:

      what I meant to say was my lovely friend hands me big bags full of clothes from both girls!

  8. My biggest money saver is learn to sew. I patch my children’s jeans, sew skirts and pajama pants and am currently knitting a dress for my infant daughter’s Christmas present. My other tip is to know what your kids really need. I know my boys don’t need more than three pairs of jeans in any given size and only one pair of dress trousers. It won’t save me any money if I go to the store, find a great deal on tee shirts only to find out when I get home that my kids already have all the tees they need.

  9. The two things my parents always bought new were shoes and underwear. They firmly believed in good fitting shoes for kids. As to the underwear that is a very personal item which needs to be as sanitary as possible.

    We were a military family so there wasn’t a lot of money to go round with five kids.

    As to the rest excellent ideas and well worth doing.

  10. Lots of great tips here, I think I’ve done most of them. Just wanted to add to check your local thrift stores for their special, our Savers has 50% off on holidays, another one has 50% off on Saturdays.
    Payless shoes is also good because it has wide widths. They also offer free in-store shipping.

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